KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia is gunning for a revamp of its ageing naval fleet, as countries in the region prepare to face threats from the influx of ISIS militants fleeing Middle East battlefields and from rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Defence spending in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to hit US$250 billion (S$350 billion) from 2016 to 2020, IHS Janes Defence Weekly said last December, and Malaysia intends to improve on its capabilities alongside other states in the hotly contested South China Sea, even as its defence budget narrows.
Malaysia's navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its ageing fleet as the country cuts its defence budget by 12.7 per cent to US$15.1 billion (S$21 billion) this year. That will be led by the procurement of four littoral mission ships (LMS) built in collaboration with China.
Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said: "The LMS are designed for many aspects of maritime security such as dealing with cross-border crime, piracy, anti-terrorism and search and rescue operations.
"These ships would be very capable of dealing with the threat posed by Daesh and other maritime security concerns," he added, referring to another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Malaysia is expected to formalise its LMS deal with China - to build four LMS and acquire the technology to construct more of the ships at home - at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition later this week.
The navy hopes to eventually have a total of 18 LMS.
Plans to acquire four LMS from China were first announced in November last year.
More than 500 exhibitors from 36 countries will parade their wares at the biennial Langkawi exhibition this year.
Indonesia's defence spending has jumped around 26 per cent under President Joko Widodo.
Thailand's military government last month approved a 13.5 billion baht (S$543.5 million) submarine deal with China after putting the purchase on hold last year.
Admiral Kamarulzaman said Malaysia is also in the final stages of negotiations with French shipbuilder DCNS to launch a programme to build larger littoral combat ships.
The navy chief said the programme should be formally announced in August or September.
The Malaysian navy is also looking to acquire three new multi-role support ships and two more submarines to round off its fleet.
The naval build-up in the region comes as tensions rise in the South China Sea, where Beijing's creation of artificial islands has alarmed some Asian countries and stoked friction between China's navy and the United States Air Force.